Communities at the forefront of an increasing flood risk
Globally, flood risk is on the rise, with the bulk of the burden from floods concentrated at community-level. Unless efforts to manage flood risk are significantly ramped up, climate change and ongoing rapid urbanization in flood-prone areas will continue to put more and more communities at risk of more and more extreme flooding. Local and national decision-makers need to take bold steps to help communities take a path towards flood resilience. The recent deadly floods across Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe sorrowfully illustrated this pressing need to take bold, transformative action to reduce flood risk and build community flood resilience.
A solid understanding of current levels of community flood resilience in flood-prone areas is crucial for selecting appropriate interventions that help communities get on the path towards flood resilience. Across communities, risk and socio-economic profiles can vary widely. Hence the implementation of a tailor-made mix of flood risk reduction and financing measures, coupled with other resilience-building actions is vital. Identifying the ingredients of such a mix is often difficult; but insights from community stakeholders can help in finding an effective and sustainable combination that matches each community’s unique context.
Whichever form this tailor-made mix of interventions takes in the end, its success crucially depends on communities’ involvement in planning and decision-making processes, as well as on their engagement down the road. After all, in the long run, even the best designed intervention can only unfold its full potential when it matches the unique needs and capacities of each community and has the community’s full support; be it through maintaining dikes and other protective infrastructure, through participating in self-protection measures or by adhering to building codes and land-use planning.
Tapping into community knowledge for a tailor-made intervention mix
Community knowledge is key for designing a tailor-made intervention mix that incorporates local needs and match community capacities, but tapping into this knowledge is no trifling matter. With the Flood Resilience Measurement for Communities (FRMC) researchers in the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance have created an easy-to-use tool that helps bring communities’ specific resilience-related insights into the fore through participatory co-generation processes.
Based on systems’ science developed at the International Institute for Applied System Analysis (IIASA), the FRMC gives an holistic overview over what builds a community’s resilience, operationalized through indicators based on five capitals (human, natural, physical, financial and social capital). Through the FRMC, stakeholders are empowered to better understand what builds flood resilience in their community, giving them the necessary insights to develop a mix of interventions that works for their specific community. As a special perk, the FRMC brings development levers for building resilience and reducing risk into view, which might be overlooked in other approaches. Think for example about switching from wood-based to solar stoves; a move that does not immediately call flood resilience to mind but holds the potential of reducing flood and landslide risk by cutting down on deforestation – exactly how Concern Worldwide ended up boosting resilience in several flood-prone communities, drawing on insights gained through the FRMC.
Schematic of the FRMC
Source: Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance (2018)
Kick-starting local engagement for boosting community flood resilience
Identifying the right interventions for boosting community resilience is only one part of the equation, local engagement in carrying them out is the other. Achieving the necessary community engagement, however, is not quite as easily done as said. The FRMC’s participatory, inclusive approach to garner community insights through household surveys, focus group discussions, key informant interviews and third-party sources provides an effective pathway to engage diverse local stakeholders in reflecting on what could make their community more resilient. Such engagement not only harvests community knowledge, but also builds understanding and support for developing interventions which reduce risk and build resilience. Community partners in the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance have confirmed that in their experience, using the FRMC approach can kick-start inclusive local decision-making processes that act as a vector for broad local engagement in reducing flood risk and boosting resilience.
Learn more about the Flood Resilience Measurement for Communities (FRMC) and how it can be of use in the unique context of your community here.